When Mathew Mayom went to take his naturalization exam to qualify for U.S. citizenship, he wasn’t nervous at all. After being forced to flee war-torn South Sudan, living in exile in Cairo, and then spending 5 years trying to reunite with his wife here in Charlotte, he was not going to let one test upset him.
“I was ready,” Mathew explained with a smile. “This exam did not make me nervous because I have been in much worse situations!”
Mathew and his wife Teresa grew up in South Sudan knowing only war. The Second Sudanese Civil War ebbed and flowed across their homeland from 1983 until 2005. During that time, the turmoil and unrest became too much for their respective families, and they both ended up as refugees in Egypt. Although they were from the same part of Sudan, they did not meet until after they arrived in Cairo. While in Egypt, they got married and soon had their first child.
But theirs was not to be a simple “and they lived happily ever after” story. Not long after they were married, Teresa received a U.S. visa to join her mother and brother in Charlotte. She left for the U.S. seeking safer conditions and a better future for the couple’s young child. Mathew, however, had no family connections in the U.S. and he was left behind with only the hope that he could work through the immigration process to someday join his wife in Charlotte. A process that would ultimately take years to complete.
“It is hard to be away from your family. Not knowing where they are or how they are doing,” he explained.
For five years, Mathew and Teresa worked diligently to be reunited. During that time, Teresa earned U.S. citizenship and became a client of the International House Immigration Law Clinic. Working with Anne Crotty and Jelena Giric-Held, she petitioned the U.S. government for visa for Mathew. After two years of forms, paperwork, and filings, they were finally able to secure a green card for Mathew and he arrived in Charlotte in 2010.
The law clinic’s work was not done however. There were legal procedures with his permanent residence card that had to be followed after he arrived in the country and then, together, they tackled the last hurdle — getting U.S. citizenship for Mathew.
“It was an amazing thing”, recalls Mathew. “They helped me with the fee waiver for the naturalization fee. Jelena gave me a study guide and tested me to make sure I was ready.” And on the day of the exam, Jelena went with Mathew for moral support.
Mathew passed the exam easily and one week later, at the Charlotte office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, he was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. That naturalization ceremony completed an odyssey that had begun nearly 15 years earlier.
“To become a citizen of the US is a huge opportunity. Especially for me because I am trying to pursue my education. It will allow me to compete for different and better jobs. As a citizen you have all opportunities open in front of you.”
Life is looking up for Teresa and Mathew these days. They have three children now and Mathew thanks IH for helping make that possible. “I’m happy to have my wife and kids with me everyday now. I am grateful to the Law Clinic for reuniting me with my family. They do a great job for a lot of people.”
Mathew’s eyes sparkle as he talks about his new life in Charlotte, and he flashes the wide contented smile of a man who has finally arrived home after a long and arduous journey.